The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36 -38 NIV).
The problem with Christianity is that it’s dangerous. I’ve talked with lots of people who were not Christians and they all agreed. But not for the reasons you might think. They all say the same thing. Christianity is dangerous because it teaches that there is a judgment after death. If you are a non-believer, a secular humanist, you generally believe that there is nothing after death. You just die. Like turning off the TV, your consciousness just stops, goes out, loses power and disappears. That’s it.
Now, I think that that is still a horrible concept. But I get their point. Christianity teaches that when you die, there is something. Whether good or bad, Christian or non-Christian, whoever you are, everyone’s consciousness continues (that’s the good news) and everyone will face judgment (that’s the bad news). After all, if there really is a God, then I suppose we will have to face him at some point (Hebrews 9: 27).
To make it worse, there is not only a possibility that you will be accepted by God, loved by him, saved, redeemed, brought into heaven, into his eternal dwelling. But there is also a possibility that you will not. Jesus said that someone could actually “forfeit his soul” (i.e. eternal life). That’s dangerous. If it’s true, then it would be a good idea to figure out beforehand what the basis of the judgment will be. Apparently, we need to figure that out before we die. And, just as obviously, Jesus is claiming that it has something to do with following him.
Yesterday, we talked about either denying ourselves or denying Christ. There is no middle ground. We need to live life as followers, disciples, on purpose walking the way of the cross, and, with our lives and words, testify to the power of the cross to heal relationships with God and others. And prove it everyday. That’s what it means to “take up our cross and follow” him.
Jesus is making the claim that discipleship has eternal consequences. If we are not willing to lose our lives (much less get uncomfortable or handle some rejection and pain) for him and for the gospel, then we will lose our lives eternally. Not that our discipleship is a guarantee of salvation but rather it is a proof (to ourselves and others) that there is true transformation within and therefore we have the Holy Spirit. He is our guarantee of eternal life. Paul tells us that “having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13b-14 NIV).
In the same way that a marriage certificate is only a symbol of the relationship, baptism (and a baptismal certificate) must be a symbol of a new-creation relationship with God through Christ. In the same way that fixing the bathroom or coming home on time from work, or taking care of the bills may be part of marriage, they are the result of the relationship, not the relationship itself. Many people get married for a lot of reasons, but (to carry the metaphor a bit further) unless you are married in your heart, truly loving the other person, all the acts that make up a life together are merely external. God is not fooled. Your wife or your husband will only be fooled for a while, usually until things get difficult, the road gets hard, suffering, pain, disappointment, career change, a death in the family, whatever “desert” you are thrust into, when temptation comes, you will know (and your partner will know) whether the relationship is for real or not. Why did you think that God was any different?
Discipleship that comes from the heart (with tears and fears and doubts and all the rest of our very human emotions) is the kind of discipleship that God is after. That’s what love is. In sickness or in health, in poverty or in riches, till death do us part (or reunite). Of course that’s the way it is with God, too.
And if discipleship is really about the quality and nature of our relationship with God, and God is eternal, then this relationship, of all things, will have eternal consequences.
Yes, you could forfeit your soul (i.e. eternal life with God) if you reject this kind of discipleship, this kind of relationship. God does not “live together” with people. He “marries” them (to extend the metaphor). He is committed and he expects our commitment to his leadership and purpose as a natural expression of our relationship with him.
“For whoever wants to save his live will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” There it is in black and white. What will we do with this truth? It is rooted in an eternal perspective, but what did you expect. “Satan thinks like a man, but God thinks about eternity.” Of course, it takes faith to think like God thinks, to talk like Jesus talks, to act in light of eternity even if it costs you “the whole world.”
There are two sides to the judgment that we will face on the other side of the grave. The first is a judgment based on our relationship with God in Christ. We are either sheep or goats (to use the Biblical metaphor). We either are represented by Jesus (he took our place on the cross and we get his perfection) or we are not. We stand alone. Now, if you don’t believe in all this stuff. Don’t worry about it. If you are right and, when you die, there is nothing. So be it. But if Jesus and the Word of God are correct and there is a judgment, the first issue to be dealt with is your relationship with the judge. You are either with Jesus or you are not. And if you are with Jesus (and not merely religious) then your discipleship will be genuine (just like your marriage to your spouse is genuine if you are truly in love).
The second side to the judgment will deal with you and what you actually did or did not do. That second judgment is the only one that most people focus on and it really isn’t that important. If you were nice but not a follower, then you will go to the nice part of hell. Is that supposed to be comforting? You will still be full of fear. You will still realize that your “nice-ness” was a spiritual trap keeping you from taking God seriously in this life. You will still realize, when you stand before him, that you have nothing to be proud of, nothing that you can say, nothing that will take away the fear (and you will know beyond a doubt that the fear is fully justified). The judgment that determines rewards and punishments is not the important one (or the scary one). It is the judgment that is based on your relationship with God because of Christ that matters.
To put it another way. If you learn to love God in this life (and to love him is to follow him and “obey his teachings” – John 14:23 NIV), then you will enter the judgment rooted in your relationship with God in Christ. Love begets love. When you see God face to face, you will not be afraid (though you may tremble a bit) because it isn’t about you but about the righteousness (perfection) of Christ and he has taken your place and he will protect you.
If you haven’t learned to love God in this life, then you will enter the judgment in fear. You will stand alone. There will be no one to intercede for you. You will not have Jesus on your side. And you will not survive. Fear begets fear. Once you are there, you can no longer learn to love. When you see him face to face, there is no more room for anything else then what you came with. If you came with love (not so much your love for him which is always weak, but rather confident in his love for you), you will enter into an even deeper relationship with God. But if you came with fear, what did you think would happen? You will only have more fear and that fear will cast you out of his presence and you will spend your eternity “gnashing your teeth” in fear and regret.
Why do you think that God stays hidden in this life, in this world? If he wanted to scare everyone into heaven, that would be easy enough. That isn’t what he’s after. He is after love. And love must be voluntary, not based on the terror of the abyss or of eternal punishment (as some pastor’s would promote it). The Bible mentions these things to make us pay attention, so that we know the consequences of our actions but they are not the reason for following him. Love is a delicate thing. It must be wooed, enticed, encouraged to come out of the bushes, out from hiding and face the light of day. That’s why God works through others, through his people and their testimony, their experiences, their words and actions. We have a significant job to do that can be done by no other and it is how we live out our discipleship together that is the greatest testimony of the transforming power of God that has ever existed. It is that new Jerusalem, the new people of God, the church, the called-out ones, the people who live in the way of the cross, who treat each other not just with respect and love, but with a cross-focused lifestyle of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Even Pastor Rick Warren promotes churches as centers of reconciliation. He gets it.
Do you? This Lenten season is about the way of the cross. It’s about evaluating your walk and asking yourself some hard questions. Am I just religious or am I truly walking on the road to Jerusalem? Am I truly a disciple of Jesus or am I just a church goer? Do I really believe that God is love and I am good so it will all work out in the end? I have some bad news for you. God is love but he doesn’t think that you are good. Even if you do. Even if you are the nicest guy on the planet. He thought that your situation was so bad that he had to come down from heaven, become a child in enemy territory, grow up to be rejected by his own people and then suffer and die on the cross as your substitute to save you on the day of judgment (whether you think you need saving or not). We are all blind to our own rebellion against God but he is not. He is fully aware of the fact that when you finally face him and realize the incredible error of your ways, you will be full of fear and there will be no way to save you at that point. It must happen now.
Will you take it as seriously as Jesus does? Or will you trivialize it into merely another religious observance that may be interesting but not life-changing? Jesus gives a final warning to his followers. He says, “if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” It’s time to make a decision about whether your discipleship truly reflects your commitment to God or is merely about morality and churchgoing and being a nice person. God forbid (and He does).
The Desert Warrior
P.S. It’s time to talk to him about it. There is no time to waste. You don’t know when you will pass into eternity. Will it be with fear or love? How will you face the judgment? Alone or with Christ at your side? Decide now before it’s too late.
Lord, I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. Teach me the way of the cross. Teach me how to love you like you love me, with sacrifice and denial and even death. I can’t say that I like the idea much, but I can say that I will follow you in sickness and in health, in poverty or riches, until death unites us forever. I can say that I will take the next step on the way of the cross by confessing that I am a sinner. I have ignored you and done what was pleasing to me (whether it was good for me or not). I was in charge and I ignored you for the most part, treating you like Santa Clause or like a 911 call but what you are is my Father. Be my Father once again. In Jesus name I pray. Amen
Read more (from the Temptations of the Cross)
He had revealed his glory to his disciples and they believed in him. They were at his side to witness the healings, to rejoice when the captives were set free. They listened to his teachings and, when they were alone, he answered their questions and taught them further. (Read more….)